Filed under: Accountable Care Organization, Medical Home, Medicare & Medicaid
In The Quiet Health-Care Revolution, an article by Adrian Slywotzky and Tom Main in the November issue of The Atlantic, the authors tell the story of CareMore, a for-profit company serving more than 50,000 elderly patients through 26 care centers located in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Founded by Sheldon Zinberg, a gastroenterologist, CareMore was originally a group physician practice but it has since become a Medicare Advantage managed care plan. As such, it is paid a capitated, risk-adjusted rate for each patient it serves, giving it a financial incentive to hold down costs. Slywotzky and Main report that, through an emphasis on care coordination and creative “upstream” interventions, CareMore has improved outcomes, held down costs, and stayed in the black.
Each CareMore patient has a personal physician, called an “extensivist,” who ensures, with the help of an electronic medical record, that all of the members of the patient’s care team are communicating and coordinating with one another. The extensivist is also charged with ensuring that the patient understands and is able to comply with his or her treatment plan. One of Dr. Zinberg’s early decisions was that “noncompliance is our problem, not the patient’s.” As a result, among other things, CareMore provides its patients with free-to-them transportation to medical appointments.
Going hand-in-hand with CareMore’s emphasis on coordination is a focus on “upstream” interventions. For a patient with congestive heart failure, a wireless scale transmits the results of her daily weigh-in to a clinic allowing fluid build-up to be caught early. For a frail patient, “light muscle-training sessions and periodic toenail clipping” reduce the risk of falls. And for a diabetic patient, aggressive treatment of a cut foot reduces the risk of infection and amputation.
How does all of this impact quality and cost? Slywotzky and Main report that:
“CareMore, through its unique approach to caring for the elderly, is routinely achieving patient outcomes that other providers can only dream about: a hospitalization rate 24 percent below average; hospital stays 38 percent shorter; an amputation rate among diabetics 60 percent lower than average. Perhaps most remarkable of all, these improved outcomes have come without increased total cost. … CareMore’s overall member costs are actually 18 percent below the industry average.”
As with other, better known providers like the Mayo Clinic, whether the CareMore model is scalable is a question, one that may be answered in coming years because the company is growing and is likely to grow more after its purchase in August by WellPoint.
In a recently-released study conducted for AHIP–the industry group representing health plans–Kenneth Thorpe makes the financial case for enrolling more individuals, in particular those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, into health plans like CareMore that employ a coordinated, team-based approach to care. As Thorpe explains, so-called “dual eligibles” are among the most chronically ill and therefore expensive of all patients, accounting, despite their relatively small numbers, for “36 percent of total Medicare spending and 39 percent of Medicaid spending.” In 2011, Thorpe writes, “the federal government–through Medicare and Medicaid–will spend over $230 billion on dual eligibles.” Currently, “[f]ewer than 2 percent of dual eligibles are enrolled in a coordinated care program that managed all Medicare and Medicaid covered benefits.” Thorpe projects that if all dual eligibles were required to enroll in such a program, the federal government would save up to $125 billion and the states up to $34 billion over the next ten years.
Achieving better alignment of Medicare and Medicaid for the benefit of dual eligibles is not without its complications, of course. Yesterday, AHIP issued a proposal reviewing key differences between the programs-including the nature and scope of covered services, eligibility and enrollment rules and procedures, provider networks and access requirements, and beneficiaries’ right to information and to appeal-and recommending ways to eliminate or work around them. Among AHIP’s recommendations is that “States be given opportunities to share with the Federal government and with health plans, as appropriate, in savings generated through increased integration.” As it stands, “it may be difficult for States to justify State investment in efforts to generate such savings, for example through programs intended to decrease acute hospitalizations or increase reliance on Medicaid-covered [i.e. partially State-funded] services.”
Filed under: Cost Benefit Analysis, Cost Control, Drug Pricing, Drugs & Medical Devices, Economic Analysis of Health, Health Reform, HHS, Hospital Finances, Medicare, Medicare & Medicaid, Social Justice, Taxation
One rare point of elite consensus is that the US needs to reduce health care costs. Frightening graphs expose America as a spendthrift outlier. Before he decamped to Citigroup, the President’s OMB director warned about how important it was to “bend the cost curve.” The President’s opponents are even more passionate about austerity.
Journalists and academics support that political consensus. Andrew Sullivan calls health spending a “giant suck from the rest of the working economy.” Gregg Bloche estimates that “the 30% of health care spending that’s wasted on worthless care” is “about the price of the $700 billion mortgage bailout, squandered every year.” He calls rising health spending an “existential challenge,” menacing other “national priorities.” Perhaps inspired by Children of the Corn, George Mason economist Robin Hanson compares modern medicine to a voracious brat:
King Solomon famously threatened to cut a disputed baby in half, to expose the fake mother who would permit such a thing. The debate over medicine today is like that baby, but with disputants who won’t fall for Solomon’s trick. The left says markets won’t ensure everyone gets enough of the precious medical baby. The right says governments produce a much inferior baby. I say: cut the baby in half, dollar-wise, and throw half away! Our “precious” medical baby is in fact a vast monster filling our great temple, whose feeding starves our people and future. Half a monster is plenty.
But when you scratch the surface of these sentiments, you have to wonder: is the overall level of health care spending really the most important threat facing the country? Is it one of the most important threats? There are many ways to raise revenue to pay for rising health costs. Aspects of the Affordable Care Act, like ACOs and pilot projects, are designed to help root out unnecessary care.
I am happy to join the crusade against waste. But why focus on total health spending as particularly egregious or worrisome? Let’s explore some of the usual rationales.
Terrible Tax Expenditures and Suspect Subsidies?
Employment-based insurance gets favorable tax treatment, and much Medicare and Medicaid spending is drawn from general revenues. So, the story goes, medicine’s big spenders don’t have enough “skin in the game.” Once health and wealth are traded off at the personal level (as the Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen advocates), people will be much less likely to demand so much care. Government can attend to other national priorities, or individuals will enjoy higher incomes and will be free to spend more.
I respect these arguments to a point, but I worry they partake of the “nirvana fallacy.” If I could be certain that leviathan would repurpose all those wasted health care dollars on infrastructure, or green energy, or smart defense, or healthier agriculture, I’d be ready to end tax-advantaged health insurance in an instant. But I find it hard to imagine Washington going in any of these directions presently.
Giving tax dollars back to taxpayers also sounds great, until one processes exactly how unequal our income distribution is. In 2004, “the top 0.1% — that’s one-tenth of one percent — had more combined pre-tax income than the poorest 120 million people.” To the extent health-related taxes are cut, very wealthy households may see millions per year in income gains; the median household might enjoy thousands of dollars per year. Sure, middle income families will find important uses for those funds (other than bidding up the price of housing and education). But at what price? What if the insurance systems start collapsing without subsidies, and more physicians (who are already expressing a desire to work less) start seeking out pure cash practices? A few interactions with the the very wealthy may be far more lucrative than dozens of ordinary appointments.
Consider the math: billing a $20,000 retainer from each of 50 millionaires annually may be a lot more attractive to physicians than trying to wrangle up 500 patients paying $2000 each—or, worse, getting the money from their insurers. There are about 10 million millionaires in the US; that’s a lot of buying power. One $10,000 score by a cosmetic dentist from such a client could be worth 400 visits from Medicaid patients seeking diagnostic procedures. Providers are voting with their feet, and a Medicaid card is already on its way to becoming a “useless piece of plastic” for many patients. Given those trends, simply reducing health care “purchasing power” generally risks some very troubling outcomes for the very people the health care cost cutters claim to protect. No one should welcome a health care plutonomy, where the richest 5% consume 35% of services, regardless of how sick they are.
Is Anyone Underpaid in Health Care?
Health commentators rightly draw attention to big insurer CEO paydays. Top layers of management at hospitals and pharma firms are also getting scrutiny. Wonks are up in arms about specialist pay. Read more
Filed under: Accountable Care Organization, Children, Medicare & Medicaid
Late last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a report recommending that pediatricians screen new mothers for postpartum depression during the 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-month well baby visits. Most pediatricians believe that screening for postpartum depression is within the scope of pediatric practice, because “[a]ddressing maternal depression in a timely and proactive fashion is essential to ensure healthy early brain and child development and readiness to succeed.”
There has been some debate about whether such screening is reimbursable. The AAP believes that it is (or should be) and recommends that pediatricians seek reimbursement using “[t]he Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code 99420 [for "Administration and interpretation of a health risk assessment instrument"] … recognizing the [Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (a 10-question screen completed by the mother)] as a measure for risk in the infant’s environment, to be appropriately billed at the infant’s visit.”
Because it would be integrated into a reimbursable well visit, and because of the limited amount of time it takes, reimbursement concerns may not be an insurmountable barrier to postpartum depression screening. (Even more streamlined than the Edinburgh Scale is a two-question screening tool that, while not specifically designed for use with new mothers, has proved effective at identifying postpartum depression. The two questions are as follows: “Over the past 2 weeks: 1. Have you ever felt down, depressed, or hopeless? 2. Have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?” Answering yes to one or both of these questions is a positive screening result.)
When the screening identifies a potential problem, though, reimbursement concerns likely are a formidable barrier to treatment delivery. The AAP acknowledges that pediatricians are not qualified to treat postpartum depression (and many mothers might not want them to in any event) and recommends that pediatricians refer new mothers with positive screening results to qualified providers and other resources in their community. This recommendation is a good one, as far as it goes, and probably all that can be expected in our current fragmented healthcare system, but it is a long way from ideal, whether you put yourself in the shoes of the provider– or the family.
Might the much-talked-about accountable care organization be a means to the end of fairly compensating pediatricians and their staff for the hard work entailed in quickly and seamlessly moving mothers into care? Just as Section 3022 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows adult medical providers to form ACOs for the purpose of receiving incentive payments tied to savings to Medicare, under Section 2706 states can allow pediatric medical providers to form ACOs to receive payments tied to savings to Medicaid. While the AAP claims that “[g]reater savings are found in managing care for adults and not children[,]“ Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, the “largest pediatric accountable care organization in America,” disagrees, claiming that “[p]ediatrics offers perhaps the biggest opportunity to bend the long-term cost curve in health care. While the savings may be less immediate, there is evidence that many of the pervasive, and costly, chronic diseases of adulthood can be successfully prevented in childhood, for example obesity.”
Providers establishing pediatric ACOs will need to confront a number of pediatric-specific structural issues. As Mark Waxman and Larry Vernaglia point out in a recent Health Law Reporter article, while “children grow out of childhood and, therefore, potentially the [pediatric ACO] structure[,]” many conditions are “best treated by the same team over the life of the individual.” In addition, “pediatric populations do not exist in vacuums; generally, they live in families and these families also receive medical care. A [pediatric ACO] may need to coordinate closely with an ACO that provides care to the entire family. … For example, if wellness programs were targeted at the whole family (e.g. nutrition, exercise, environmental, etc.) they likely would be more effective than if they address the child in isolation.” Postpartum depression is just one of many conditions that call for care coordination not just on the patient’s behalf but also on the patient’s family’s behalf– and pediatric ACOs should be structured with this in mind.
Filed under: Medicare & Medicaid, State Initiatives
I can’t read another paean to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour for granting a release from imprisonment to Gladys Scott on condition that she “donate” a kidney to her sister.
The Scott sisters were sentenced to life 16 years ago for an armed robbery that yielded them $11. The women will be eligible for parole in 2014.
Civil rights advocates have sought the two women’s release for some years, arguing that their sentences were excessive.
Barbour’s decision has been hailed by the NAACP President and CEO as “a shining example of the way a governor should use the power of clemency.” A primary reason cited by Barbour for his decision is that sister Jamie’s dialysis is costing the state a lot of money. According to Gladys Scott’s attorney, the idea that she donate a kidney to her sister was her own, which is why he included it in the petition for release.
While available reports do not provide sufficient facts for robust legal-moral analysis, this story raises issues that should give us pause.
First and foremost, I am concerned on Gladys Scott’s behalf that a kidney donation is in neither her short- or long-term best interests – I can only wonder whether her own health makes her an ideal donor after serving a 16-year prison sentence.
We don’t know what led to Jamie’s end-stage renal disease, but it is crucial that Gladys know what her own risk for the disease is before she gives up a healthy kidney. Will her physicians feel comfortable recommending against the surgery if her long-term prognosis is poor – would such a decision result in the revocation of the prison release, or is the release contingent upon a medical “OK” for the procedure?
To what extent will the transplant physicians be required to compromise their own ethical duties to the health of these women to accommodate their desire for freedom?
Hopefully, Barbour’s release decision depends upon Gladys’ willingness to be considered as an organ donor, as opposed to her having to actually go through with it.
While I believe it possible that Gladys wishes to donate her kidney to save her sister’s life, the conditions under which she has made this decision are hardly ideal to voluntariness, which our law normally dictates is a necessary condition precedent to organ donation.
These women have been incarcerated their entire adult lives, and have likely made very few decisions on their own behalf, much less life-and-death ones.
Other doubts haunt this scenario. If indeed the Scott sisters merited a suspension of their sentences because they are excessive, then the governor should have made his decision for that reason, thereby enabling the women to resolve how to proceed in addressing Jamie’s kidney failure in the context of their private lives, without state compulsion and outside the glare of the media.
I hope they have significant and stable support upon their release – in addition to undergoing a significant medical procedure, they may not be well-prepared for successful reentry even in the best of circumstances.
Barbour cites the opportunity to save the state health costs by releasing the sisters to pursue the transplant. If the transplant is both a cost-effective and humane alternative to dialysis (which I believe it is) why wasn’t it allowed during the sisters’ incarceration?
While the state may be expecting to save money for the sisters’ health care, it is presumably Medicare that will be covering the cost of the transplant and the extremely expensive post-surgical anti-rejection drugs that Jamie will require (although Jamie’s eligibility for Medicare will likely be fraught with hurdles).
Thus, a large part of the state’s motivation here seems to be the chance to shift Scott from the state’s Medicaid roll to the federal government’s Medicare program.
A fragmented system
While this might work out in the end for the Scott sisters, it represents yet another perversity of our fragmented health care system.
The Scott sisters must be wonderfully excited about their imminent release, and the possibility of saving Jamie’s life, and I am pleased for them.
I am less excited, however, about Barbour’s decision becoming a precedent for other governors.
This article originally appeared in The Record, New Jersey’s most awarded newspaper.
Filed under: Fraud & Abuse, Health Reform, Medicare & Medicaid
On December 15, 2010, President Obama signed the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 (the Medicare Physician Pay Fix Bill). In addition to its one-year delay of a 25% cut in Medicare reimbursements to physicians, the act repeals § 6502 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which would have become effective on January 1, 2011. This move stands in stark contrast to a recent trend toward increased individual liability, specifically the increased exclusion of individuals from federal healthcare programs for fraud and abuse violations.
The federal government, through the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG), has increased its focus on individuals, with exclusions for fraud and abuse violations. As previously reported, OIG released an internal advisory document on October 20, 2010, setting out nonbinding factors for permissive exclusions under § 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act. The new Guidance changed the permissive exclusion standard to a quasi-mandatory standard, by creating a presumption in favor of exclusion when an individual exercises ownership, operational or managerial control over a sanctioned entity and there is evidence that such individual knew or should have known of the prohibited conduct.
OIG swiftly acted on the new Guidance by excluding Marc S. Hermelin, Chairman of the board and majority shareholder of K-V Pharmaceutical. As a result, K-V announced on November 17, 2010 that Hermelin had resigned and agreed to divest himself of all K-V stock. On December 7, 2010, Gregory E. Demske, Assistant Inspector General, announced that the exclusion of Hermelin was “preview of things to come.”
Further, on November 9, 2010, former GlaxoSmithKline Vice President and Associate General Counsel Lauren Stevens was charged with obstruction of justice and making a false statement in response to a Food and Drug inquiry. Michael W. Peregrine, with McDermott Will & Emery LLP, told BNA that, “the Stevens prosecution is a piece of a broader puzzle based in part on the responsible corporate officer doctrine and reflects the government’s heightened interest in fostering individual accountability and that is consistent with other recent attempts by prosecutors to target individuals they believe are responsible for corporate misconduct.”
Section 6502, which was repealed on December 15, would have continued the trend toward increased individual liability. It would have mandated state Medicaid agencies to exclude an individual or entity that “owns, controls, or manages” a Medicaid-participating entity that:
- Has delinquent, unpaid Medicaid overpayments
- Is suspended or excluded from participation in Medicaid, or
- Is affiliated with an individual or entity that has been suspended or excluded from participation in Medicaid
The Medicaid exclusion authority of § 6502 is different than § 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act. Unlike § 1128(b)(15), which provides for permissive exclusion from all federal health care programs, § 6502 would have provided for mandatory derivative exclusion from Medicaid only. Laurence Freedman, an attorney with Patton Boggs told BNA that “this mandatory Medicaid exclusion needed to be repealed to avoid a broad, and I believe, unintended impact. It would have reached former executives or board members of excluded subsidiaries, for example.”
The Congressional Research Service (“CRS”) released a November 3, 2010 report entitled Medicare Provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA): Summary and Timeline. It outlines and summarizes the significant changes made to the Medicare program by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”; P.L. 111-148), as amended by the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 (“the Reconciliation Act”; P.L. 111-152).
Prior to the enactment of PPACA and the Reconciliation Act (“the Reform Acts”), the Congressional Budget Office predicted that total mandatory annual expenditures would increase “from $501 billion in 2009 to $943 billion in 2019.” Under these health reform measures, the average annual rate of spending growth will reduce from 8 – 6%, resulting in approximately $390 billion in savings over the next ten years.
Medicare Changes by Provider Type and Program
The Reform Acts will have three primary affects on Medicare Part A coverage. It will: 1) constrain payment increases, 2) restructure payments, and 3) reduce payments to disproportionate share hospitals by $22.1 billion from FY2015 to FY2019.
The Reform Acts are expected to directly and indirectly change the way Part B Providers organize, practice, and deliver care. Medicare Physician Quality and Reporting Initiative (PQRI) incentive payments will be extended through 2014 and “an incentive (penalty) for providers who do not report quality measures” will be implemented in 2015. The Reform Acts create other programs, including the National Pilot Program on Payment Bundling, the shared savings program (including the accountable care organization, or ACO, model), or the value-based payment modifier under the physician fee schedule. Additionally, the Reform Acts will save approximately $196.3 billion over 10 years by constraining annual payment increases for certain non-physician providers.
The Reform acts will save $135.6 billion over 10 years by changing Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plan payments. PPACA will decrease many benchmark amounts by tying them to the per capita fee-for-service Medicare spending amounts. At the same time, PPACA will increase benchmarks for certain high quality plans. By 2011, coding intensity adjustments will be applied to plan payments.
PPACA will improve coverage under the Medicare prescription drug program (Medicare Part D) by closing the coverage gap between $2,830 in total covered drug spending and the catastrophic threshold of $6,440 (the “doughnut hole”). “Enrollees will receive a 50% discount off the price of brand-name drugs during the coverage gap starting in 2011, and the coverage gap will be phased out by 2020.” Access to and availability of low-income subsidies will be improved through increased funding.
Efficiency and Quality of Health Care Services
To increase the efficiency and quality of Medicare services PPACA requires “the establishment of a national, voluntary pilot program that will bundle payments for physician, hospital, and post-acute care services with the goal of improving patient care and reducing spending.” This shared savings program is expected to save $4.9 billion over ten years. Another provision establishing payment adjustment to hospitals for “readmissions related to certain potentially preventable conditions,” will likely save $7.1 billion over the next ten years. Approximately $1.4 billion should also be saved through the institution of a payment penalty for certain common, high-cost hospital-acquired health conditions.
Finally, the creation of a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation within CMS is expected to save $1.3 billion over the next 10 years. Its purpose will be “to research, develop, test, and expand innovative payment and delivery arrangements to improve the quality and reduce the cost of care provided to patients.”
To address financing challenges, the Reform Acts have established several revenue producing mechanisms. First, a new Hospital Insurance tax of 0.9% on high-wage earners (“over $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers effective for taxable years after December 31, 2012″) and a new Medicare tax on net investment income will together raise $210 billion between 2013 and 2019.
Second, Part B and Part D beneficiaries will face increased premiums. Part D premium increases will save approximately $11 billion over 10 years and adjustments to the high-income threshold for Part B premiums will save $25 billion over 10 years.
Finally, to reduce spending growth, PPACA establishes an Independent Payment Advisory Board empowered to adjust payment rates. This Board is expected to save $15.5 billion between 2015 and 2019.
Fraud, Waste and Abuse
The amount of money lost to fraud is estimated to be between 3-10% of all health care expenditures. To combat this problem, the Reform Acts allocate $260 million in increased funding for anti-fraud activities over the next ten years.
Despite the projected savings resulting from PPACA and the Reconciliation Act, “the rising cost of health care, the impact of the aging baby boomer generation, and declining revenues in a weakened economy” will continue to challenge the quality and sustainability of the Medicare Program. The report cautions that savings estimates are based on questionable assumptions. Furthermore, such savings can either be used to defer solvency issues or expand health insurance coverage, not both. Meanwhile, the practice of medicine is expected to undergo significant changes.
Despite the uncertainty in coming years, the CRS report will serve as a helpful guide and benchmark. The appendices provide detailed tables of spending adjustments by provider and by year, against which continuing surveillance of spending growth can be monitored.
On October 20, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the Inspector General, (“OIG”) released, Guidance for Implementing Permissive Exclusion Authority Under Section 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act (“Guidance”). The Guidance provides owners, officers, and managing employees an opportunity to better evaluate their exposure and limit any liability resulting from their control over an entity subject to OIG enforcement action.
Section 1128(b)(15) of the Social Security Act provides the Secretary of HHS the authority to exclude owners, officers, and managing employees “of an entity that has been excluded or has been convicted of certain offenses.” OIG, having been delegated this authority by the Secretary, has published this internal advisory document setting out nonbinding factors to be considered in deciding whether to impose an individual permissive exclusion, under § 1128(b)(15).
Historically, OIG has not often exercised its permissive authority to exclude individuals from participation in federal health programs. According to OIG’s “List of Excluded Individuals,” 28 individuals controlling an excluded or convicted entity have themselves been excluded pursuant to § 1128(b)(15), including 16 owners or operators, 7 officers and 5 practitioners. The Guidance may indicate a new enforcement direction for OIG.
According to DLA Piper, the Guidance “is further evidence that OIG is serious about its recent focus on individual accountability and that it intends to exclude officers and managing employees, even without evidence that those individuals knew or should have known about the conduct giving rise to the entity’s criminal liability or exclusion.” Skadden takes a similar position, stating:
This guidance finds OIG asserting the breadth of its authority by creating a presumption in favor of exclusion in certain cases and endorsing a new strict liability exclusion standard in other cases. These enforcement positions appear likely to accelerate the government’s recent efforts to hold individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing.
Filed under: Medicare & Medicaid, Private Insurance, Women's Health Issues
A recent article by the Commonwealth Fund entitled Realizing Health Reform’s Potential: Women and the Affordable Care Act of 2010¸forecast that “over the next decade, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is likely to stabilize and reverse women’s growing exposure to health care costs.” However, a review of the claimed benefits shows that many are equally important to men and women.
Such claims of gender-specific benefits without statistical support are also available from the White house. That being said, there are some provisions that will greatly benefit women — and to supporters’ detriment — have not received the focus that they should.
Several portions of PPACA are intended to benefit women. The prohibitions against gender-based insurance denials or premium pricing are aimed at combating blatant gender-discrimination in the insurance market. 7.3 million women (38%) in the individual insurance market reported that they were turned down, charged a higher price, or had a preexisting condition excluded from coverage (see graphic below). As the White House reports, “Right now, a healthy 22-year-old woman can be charged premiums 150 percent higher than a 22-year-old man.” Such gender-based rating is allowed in 42 states, with some plans charging women as much as 84% more than men for the same age group. As Secretary Sebelius phrased it, “[b]eing a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition!”
The essential benefits standards require insurers to cover maternity care, eliminating previously reported pregnancy-discrimination. Only 13 percent of plans sold in the individual market provide maternity benefits and “in 22 states, no plan covered costs related to pregnancy.” Other plans impede access to maternity benefits by placing severe limits on costs covered or implementing long waiting periods before coverage begins.
Other services that must be covered by all non-grandfathered health plans beginning September 2010 include:
- Breast cancer screening every one to two years for women age 40 and older
- Cervical cancer screening
- Genetic counseling for the breast cancer (BRCA) gene
- Osteoporosis screening for all women 65 and older, and 60 and older for those at high risk
- Aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease in women ages 55 to 79
PPACA has several other provisions focused on breast cancer–including, “a special provision directed at raising awareness of, and increasing screening for, breast cancer in young women,” and a directive to pursue breast cancer prevention research in younger women.
Section 4207 of PPACA amends Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by requiring employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk… [in] a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public…” The Department of Labor Fact Sheet #73 further explains that a space temporarily converted or made available will be sufficient.
The ban on pre-existing conditions exclusions will remedy a number of unfair and discriminatory insurance industry practices. It will benefit women in the eight states and District of Columbia where insurers may legally reject a woman’s application on the basis of her prior experience as a victim of domestic violence. It will also benefit women who would have been previously denied, on the basis of a previous cesarean section, either future C-sections or health insurance as a whole.
Also, the phase-out of the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug benefit )Part D) will incidentally help more women than men. Of the 16% of Medicare beneficiaries that reach the doughnut hole each year, women (along with Alzheimer’s and diabetes patients) are the most likely to reach the gap in coverage.
Benefits for Men
So how do men benefit from PPACA? For starters more men will benefit from the extended health insurance coverage mandated by PPACA. Although women comprise 60% of adult Medicaid beneficiaries (in 2006), 54.6% of all uninsured are men (in 2007-2008). The Medicaid safety net has caught more women than men. However, that is a completely different social discussion to be had another day.
*Note: uncited statistics can be found in the Commonwealth Fund article, S. Collins, S. Rustgi, and M. Doty, Realizing Health Reform’s Potential: Women and the Affordable Care Act of 2010, The Commonwealth Fund, July 2010.
“The alternate approach to medical marijuana distribution,” an op-ed by Kate Greenwood featured in The Record
Filed under: Drugs & Medical Devices, Medicare & Medicaid, Prescription Drugs
[Ed. Note: This op-ed piece was featured in The Record's Sunday Editorial Page and on North Jersey.com. It was written by Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy Research Fellow and regular Health Reform Watch blogger, Kate Greenwood]
WE FEEL there is no question about it: The careful, legal distribution of medicinal marijuana to those in need is a good thing. The New Jersey Legislature agreed and passed legislation permitting distribution last January. Then-Gov. Jon Corzine signed the measure before leaving office.
But Governor Christie has requested a delay in its implementation, and a proposal to modify the system of distribution is cause for concern.
More than a year ago, Seton Hall Law’s Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law and Policy distributed a position paper to New Jersey lawmakers urging passage of the marijuana measure, called the “New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.” The center did so citing the inclusion of “multiple measures designed to reduce the risk of abuse or diversion” and noting that “the medical literature supports the conclusion that smoked marijuana can provide relief to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions for whom conventional treatments have failed.”
The act was to have taken effect this month, but, in response to a request from Christie, the Legislature pushed back the effective date to October.
As passed, the act provides that medical marijuana be grown and distributed by six not-for-profit “alternative treatment centers.”
But now, the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals has proposed that the act be amended — before it is even implemented to provide that medical marijuana instead be grown by Rutgers University and distributed by the state’s teaching hospitals.
While hospitals are, as the Council of Teaching Hospitals points out, experienced dispensers of medicine, the act should not be rewritten to require them to dispense medical marijuana.
The passage of the act affects the rights and responsibilities of patients and providers of medical marijuana under New Jersey law; it does not change the fact that distribution and use of marijuana are illegal under federal law.
Although Attorney General Eric Holder has pledged not to prosecute patients and providers who comply with applicable state laws, and hospitals could thus dispense medical marijuana without fear of criminal prosecution, they would still be violating federal law.
Condition of participation
This is a problem because compliance with federal law is a condition of participation in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid and Medicare funding; the Compassionate Use Act’s alternative treatment centers would not.
Filed under: Health Reform, HHS, Medical Device, Medicare, Medicare & Medicaid
Health care finance is always going to be a contentious topic. Two recent stories about devices in health care show the unexpected ways in which technological innovation can generate new burdens, worries, and ethical dilemmas for patients and their families.
Katy Butler authored a heart-rending account of her father’s decline (and her mother’s near-exhaustion as a caregiver) in the NYT last week. Her father’s stroke changed both his and Butler’s mother’s lives:
The day before [the stroke], my mother was an upper-middle-class housewife who practiced calligraphy in her spare time. Afterward, she was one of tens of millions of people in America, most of them women, who help care for an older family member.
The story of what happens next is long and complex, but for health policy makers the nub comes down to a decision the family must make about whether to implant a permanent pacemaker when her father needs surgery to repair a hernia:
[T]he cardiologist, John Rogan, refused to clear my dad for surgery unless he received a pacemaker. . .. The decision fell to my mother — anxious to relieve my father’s pain, exhausted with caregiving, deferential to doctors and no expert on high-tech medicine. She said yes. One of the most important medical decisions of my father’s life was over in minutes. . . .
[If my father's primary care physician had] had the chance to sit down with my parents, he could have explained that the pacemaker’s battery would last 10 years and asked whether my father wanted to live to be 89 in his nearly mute and dependent state. He could have discussed the option of using a temporary external pacemaker that, I later learned, could have seen my dad safely through surgery. But my mother never consulted Fales. And the system would have effectively penalized him if she had. Medicare would have paid him a standard office-visit rate of $54 for what would undoubtedly have been a long meeting — and nothing for phone calls to work out a plan with Rogan and the surgeon.
Medicare has made minor improvements since then, and in the House version of the health care reform bill debated last year, much better payments for such conversations were included. But after the provision was distorted as reimbursement for “death panels,” it was dropped. In my father’s case, there was only a brief informed-consent process, covering the boilerplate risks of minor surgery, handled by the general surgeon.
Butler’s family’s situation was clearly a troubling one. I do not agree with her harsher critics, who charge the New York Times has used her story to promote its political agenda:
The New York Times is continuing its promotion of the Obama administration’s cost-cutting health care legislation three months after it was signed into law. Central to the newspaper’s support for the bill is its drive to cut back on “unnecessary” treatments and procedures and to target for elimination “overly generous” insurance benefits. . . . The article is a cynical attempt to utilize the author’s family’s personal story—unarguably tragic and heartrending—to make the case that artificial pacemakers are being widely over-utilized.
But I was also troubled by Butler’s quoting the following studies:
In a 1997 study in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 30 percent of seriously ill people surveyed in a hospital said they would “rather die” than live permanently in a nursing home. In a 2008 study in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 28 percent of patients with advanced heart failure said they would trade one day of excellent health for another two years in their current state.
I have not experienced “advanced heart failure,” but I know people who do, and it’s inconceivable to me that they would trade a day of “perfect health” for two months, much less two years, of stasis. Moreover, as Alasdair MacIntyre argues in his book Dependent Rational Animals, caring for others and being dependent are essential, important human experiences.
As I read Butler’s piece, I kept wishing that society had done more (perhaps along the lines of Britain’s Social Care programs) to help her family.
But even some forms of aid for the cared for (and their caregivers) are filled with philosophical complexities. Consider the Paro, a robotic seal I blogged about in last month and back in 2006. The Paro has been approved as “a Class 2 medical device (a category that includes powered wheelchairs)” to help soothe elderly patients. Here is one example of its powers:
One recent morning, staff at Marian Manor in Pittsburgh, one of Vincentian Collaborative’s homes, circulated three Paros among residents gathered for a sing-a-long. As 77-year-old Anita Biro sat down at a table, she berated two fellow residents and told them to leave, recalls Beth Kuenzi, activities manager for the home’s dementia unit. But when Ms. Kuenzi put Paro in front of Ms. Biro, her mood changed. As Ms. Biro stroked the robot’s synthetic fur, the machine batted its eyelashes and tracked movement with its head and eyes.
“I love this baby,” Ms. Biro cooed. Aides also take Paro to residents’ rooms to get them to socialize. At another Vincentian home, Lois Simmeth, 73, doesn’t always participate in group activities, but she ventures into the hall when she hears Paro’s sounds.
“I love animals,” explains Ms. Simmeth. She whispered to the robot in her lap: “I know you’re not real, but somehow, I don’t know, I love you.”
MIT Professor Sherry Turkle concedes that the Paro has some very good effects, but wonders “Why are we so willing to provide our parents, then ourselves, with faux relationships?” Another article explores advances in “building a machine that fills the basic human need for companionship.” Turkle, again, questions the larger social context:
[S]ome social critics see the use of robots with such patients as a sign of the low status of the elderly, especially those with dementia. As the technology improves . . . it will only grow more tempting to substitute Paro and its ilk for a family member, friend — or actual pet — in an ever-widening number of situations.
“Paro is the beginning,” she said. “It’s allowing us to say, ‘A robot makes sense in this situation.’ But does it really? And then what? What about a robot that reads to your kid? A robot you tell your troubles to? Who among us will eventually be deserving enough to deserve people?”
These are all fantastic questions, all-too-ready to be answered by techno-libertarian fantasists. I look forward to tracing the degree to which the decision to approve Paro as a covered device could reflect the larger ethical concerns explored by Dov Fox in his piece on the “gap between ethics and law” in other health decisionmaking.
Filed under: HHS, Medicare & Medicaid, Obama Administration
Recently, President Obama submitted a memorandum to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, granting gay and lesbian partners of hospital patients visiting rights and the right to be acknowledged as persons designated to dictate care choices for patients incapable of making such decisions. The action was said to have been spurred by the story of a lesbian woman Janice Langbehn who was denied visitation when her partner was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami after she suddenly collapsed. The patient later died, and Langbehn was not by her side due to the hospital’s policy of allowing only family members visitation rights.
In his memorandum, the President took account of such personal stories and requested that the Secretary of HHS take steps towards ameliorating the issue by ensuring that all hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate their visitors and care coordinators in the event of incapacitation. A partner in a gay relationship, thus, could be one specified in advance directives and health care proxies.
The President stated that visitation privileges may no longer be denied “on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” Specifications regarding whether or not a line will be drawn between unmarried partners and non-intimate relationships were not included in the memorandum; however, it did mention that HHS would be responsible for determining the technical aspects of implementing the grant.
Interestingly, response from conservative groups was not particularly adverse. Perhaps the spectre of refusing to allow death bed visitations between partners, such as Ms. Langbehn’s ordeal, loomed as a form of cruelty difficult to countenance. The NY Times noted that
The socially conservative Family Research Council issued a statement calling the issue of medical rights for gay men and lesbians “a complete red herring” but saying it had “no objection” to individuals conferring decision-making powers to whomever they wish.
The Obama Administration reached out to groups like Catholic Health Association before releasing the memorandum in an attempt to ensure that the grant would not face any obstacles within the religious community. The Catholic Health Association noted that the order “reaffirmed basic human rights for each person at most critical points of their lives.” The NY Times further noted that the group’s president, Sister Carol Keehan, stated “Everybody in this country has a right to say, If I can’t speak for myself, this is the person I want to speak for me.”
Filed under: CMS, Medicaid, Medicare, Medicare & Medicaid, Obama Administration
President Obama has announced his choice for the position of director of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Dr. Donald Berwick, a pediatrician, professor, and advocate of improving patient care. The CMS has been without a permanent administrator since 2006. Berwick, whose appointment must be approved by the Senate before he may assume the position, certainly has the credentials for the important role the CMS director will surely play in the coming years. Still, whether Republican Senators will be basing their confirmation decision on credentials or resentment of health care reform’s passage is yet to be seen.
Berwick is best known for founding the Institute for Health Care Improvement. The Institute for Health Care Improvement is a non-profit think tank that is dedicated to helping hospitals improve their patient care delivery. As attested to by the Institute’s co-founder Dr. Paul Batalden, Berwick takes incremental approaches to improving patient care that are cost-effective and do not lead to the rationing of care. For example, Berwick finds that reducing the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections through something as small as keeping medical equipment sterile can help to bring down the rate of medical errors.
Berwick is also a proponent of utilizing medical information sharing, and is often called blunt in regard to how he finds the American health care system inefficient in delivering patient care. Additionally, Berwick has advocated for patient rights on numerous levels, using a philosophy of patient-centered medicine. He wants doctors to be rewarded based on the health care outcomes of their patients instead of how many procedures a doctor has performed. Having a leader interested in implementing infrstructural changes which incentivize outcomes as opposed to procedures as paydays without regard to outcome, is, many think, a step in the right direction. It is also worth noting that Berwick himself will be taking more than a 66% pay cut if he is appointed as the director of the CMS.
While Berwick may not have functioned as the head of a health care system in his career, he is not new to the world of national health policy. In 1998, he was on President Clinton’s advisory commission that recommended ways to reduce medical mistakes and ensure consumer protection in the American health care system. And also served at that same time as Chair of the agency that is now known as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Berwick has also played a part in improving Britain’s National Health Service, for which he was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II.
Since Obama’s health care overhaul “contemplates key roles for both programs in extending insurance coverage to 32 million people at a cost of $938 billion over 10 years,” if selected to be the CMS’s director, Berwick will certainly need to bring his A-game in helping change the way our current health care system consumes Medicare and Medicaid resources. Many also hope that good Medicare reforms will start a trend, motivating private insurance companies to also make cost-saving changes. Before that challenge, Berwick will have to get past a Senate confirmation. Republican Senators are likely going to make the process a rigorous one, where they will grill Berwick on how exactly he plans to effect the new health care reform legislation.
Given the importance of the CMS and the fact that it currently has no director, it would behoove the Senate to quicken the process of Berwick’s selection, considering his credentials and commitment to the rights and needs of American patients. As the Washington Post said, “supporters and opponents of the new health-care legislation ought to be able to agree that leaving the agency without a confirmed head is not healthy.” The job needs to be filled, and instead of using political tactics through rehashing the health care reform debate, the Senate should focus on the many qualities that Berwick has to offer.
If Medicare services or provider rates were cut, or threatened to be cut to balance the budget, the firestorm would be epic. Republicans would accuse Democrats suggesting such cuts of stealing from the elderly. Democrats would accuse Republicans suggesting such cuts of trying to abolish Medicare. AARP would express outrage, and if it didn’t do so loudly enough tea partiers would urge seniors to burn their AARP cards in an incongruous support of a government health care program. So where’s the outrage when states faced with budget cuts look first to cut Medicare’s sister program, Medicaid?
A front page story in the New York Times on Tuesday describes cuts in Michigan’s Medicaid budget, resulting in the elimination of some services and reductions in provider fees. As Medicaid fees were already absurdly low in Michigan, as in many states, the predictable response was that the pool of doctors available to Medicaid beneficiaries shrank even further. Those lucky enough to find a doctor willing to take the low Medicaid reimbursement must be willing to travel long distances, and give up days of work to get necessary care for their sick children. The Times described one such case:
Medicaid enrollees in Michigan’s midsection have grown accustomed to long journeys for care. This month, Shannon M. Brown of Winn skipped work to drive her 8-year-old son more than two hours for a five-minute consultation with Dr. Mukkamala. Her pediatrician could not find a specialist any closer who would take Medicaid, she said.
Later this month, she will take the predawn drive again so Dr. Mukkamala can remove her son’s tonsils and adenoids. “He’s going to have to sit in the car for three hours after his surgery,” Mrs. Brown said. “I’m not looking forward to that one.”
Those who can’t locate a participating physician either do without or wait for the condition to become emergent, at which time they seek more expensive hospital care. How can this program be so dysfunctional? The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a report posted last month, described the countercyclical nature of Medicaid’s finance structure:
During an economic downturn, unemployment rises and puts upward pressure on Medicaid. As individuals lose employer sponsored insurance and incomes decline, Medicaid enrollment and therefore spending increase. At the same time, revenue losses make it more difficult for states to pay their share of Medicaid spending increases. Specifically, a 1 percentage point increase in the national unemployment rate is estimated to result in 1 million more Medicaid and CHIP enrollees and an additional 1.1 million uninsured at the same time as state revenues are projected to fall by 3 to 4%.
So, states need to increase funding for Medicaid just when they are losing tax revenues and are facing pressures in other public service settings. As KFF describes in the report, the problem this year was lessened somewhat by the addition of federal stimulus funding; the funding was apparently not enough to support the program in Michigan, and in any event will not persist nearly as long as states’ projected budget problems.
This is not a new problem. It has often been noted that a health care system for poor people is a poor health system. The reasons are, unfortunately, quite clear. Medicare serves (mostly) the elderly of all income groups. This is a politically powerful bloc: its members vote, and enough of them are financially and socially powerful to protect their turf. Medicaid covers low-income people, including our lowest wage-earners, poor children, and people with permanent disabilities. They have little social clout, by definition little money, and not much in the way of a lobby. So, when times get hard, their programs are on the line.
That brings us to health reform. The current bills rely heavily on Medicaid to bring coverage to the uninsured. That is, as the above discussion makes clear, a risky proposition. In its several forms, current reform bills have promised some increases, often temporary, to the federal share of states’ Medicaid costs. And in a letter to Congressional leaders following a summit earlier this month, the President acknowledged the precariousness of the network of providers on whom we’ll rely to render that expansion more than a charade:
At the meeting, Senator Grassley raised a concern, shared by many Democrats, that Medicaid reimbursements to doctors are inadequate in many states, and that if Medicaid is expanded to cover more people, we should consider increasing doctor reimbursement. I’m open to exploring ways to address this issue in a fiscally responsible manner.
That would be a good step. So would increasing the federal share of Medicaid’s costs. If the current fiscal crisis has shown us anything about our federalist system, it is that the federal government, with its ability to borrow, is much better at responding to emergencies than are the states, with their obligations to balance budgets annually. But ultimately, a program for poor people will always have political, and therefore fiscal problems.
For reform to stick, for expansion of coverage to the poor and near-poor to genuinely serve their health needs over time, we have to tend structurally to our funding system. The achievement of expansion to near-universal coverage would be a statement of solidarity, proclaiming that we’re all in this together. To make that stick, we have to be in our health care financing system together. There will be a list of clean-up work and next steps if and when reform passes. High on that list should be the repair of Medicaid’s shaky fiscal foundation, integrating the interests of Americans across class and income levels. When they’re considering reductions in access to health care, legislators should be just as cautious about harming kids in Flint as they are about harming elders in Scarsdale.
While Medicaid Enrollment Rates Increase, States Face Financial Pressure to Decrease State Medicaid Spending
Filed under: Medicaid, Medicare, Medicare & Medicaid, The Uninsured, Unemployment, Uninsured
Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report indicating a large jump in state Medicaid enrollment from June 2008 to June 2009. The report said that the 7.5 percent increase was the greatest one-year jump in enrollment rates ever, with over 3 million people joining the public health program funded jointly by the federal government and individual state governments. The reason for the increase is thought to be that because more people became unemployed due to the economic crash, more individuals turned to Medicaid for health coverage. However, because the economic downturn meant less revenue entering into state budgets, state Medicaid programs have not been able to keep up with the rise in new enrollees.
During a convening of state governors at the White House this week, state officials will likely raise the issue of Medicaid spending. The issue is pressing in light of the impending funding cut when stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will expire in December of this year. The governors will likely ask that the stimulus funding be continued until states can somehow make up for their large current budget deficits. In addition to asking for more money, the governors will also likely discuss the feasibility of health care reform efforts. With both House and Senate versions of health care reform proposing increases to state Medicaid programs to ensure the coverage of more uninsured individuals, the state governors would, understandably, like to know where the money for such expansion would come from.
The National Association of State Medicaid Directors estimates that states’ budgets will fall short $140 billion in the next fiscal year. This means even less money for the likely further increase in Medicaid enrollment to come this year, as Medicaid enrollment generally lags behind unemployment. To account for the deficit, many states are planning to reduce their Medicaid programs. USA Today finds that three categories of such reductions exist:
- California, Arizona and Virginia propose reducing who’s eligible. In Arizona, 310,000 people would lose coverage. California also wants to increase premiums.
- Michigan, Tennessee, Massachusetts and others propose eliminating benefits. Masachusetts’ elimination of restorative dental services would save $56 million, says Medicaid director Terry Dougherty.
- Texas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and others propose cutting payments to hospitals, doctors or nursing homes. Several states are considering new taxes on hospitals as a way to avoid cutting these payments.
States that accepted stimulus money to expand their Medicaid programs in 2009 are restricted from any such cuts that would affect low-income enrollment. However, if the stimulus funding is not extended, some states are planning on heightening eligibility requirements. For other states, while decreasing hospital and doctor reimbursement seems like the worst possible option– given that many doctors have already stopped accepting Medicaid patients due to what they deem to be an insufficient rate of reimbursement– many states’ officials find that the only other viable option they have is raising taxes. Many state leaders refuse to increase taxes in fear of the political backlash come November.
Realizing the need for health care reform to help manage the burden of paying for health care, state governors have stated a desire to be part of the health care reform conversation. Many have already expressed their dislike for individual mandates, which they believe will drive more individuals to state Medicaid programs. For the most part, however, the governors want reform and they want it now, finding that they simply can’t afford to wait another year.
It is also worth noting that an underlying issue from these new numbers is whether the Medicaid program is actually a good prototype for expanding health care coverage. Drew Altman, President and CEO of Kaiser, put in perspective Kaiser’s report as well as the concerns of public spending that were sparked by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ projections for 2009-2019– which forecast that public spending on health care will surpass private spending. He noted that while spending in public health insurance programs would increase, the cost-benefit would be better, since per capita costs on health care were lower in government-run programs than in private insurance programs. According to Altman, such numbers did not undermine health reform efforts, but instead denoted “the need to control health care costs in the public and the private sectors alike.”
Filed under: Cost Control, Medicare & Medicaid, Quality Improvement
Why should we care about primary care in Medicare? Early in the reform discussions, preventive and primary care was emphasized; in addition to extending medical care to all, reform would also implement preventive measures to keep them well. In the current reform scrum, some are back peddling pretty fast, and in the course of finding “consensus” points (often focusing on cost-savings), we might lose conceptual coherence.
Ken Thorpe’s new Health Affairs article on chronic care patients in Medicare offers sound research and helpful analysis. Thorpe’s data point toward a subtle explanation for health inflation keyed not to the increased cost of high-tech interventions, but to a shift in the conditions for which treatment is provided:
Our results highlight important changes in the medical conditions accounting for the rise in spending among beneficiaries over time. The most notable changes were in spending on a handful of chronic conditions: diabetes, kidney disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, mental disorders, and arthritis.
Thorpe has long argued that our health care delivery and finance system is stuck in a 20th Century of acute care, while our 21st Century needs have migrated toward chronic care. As he has argued previously, these chronic care needs call for care at a human scale, including care management and supportive community-based care. But he also points out that many chronic conditions are at least partially preventable, and that attention and resources should not be directed only to treating these conditions, but also to forestalling their incidence.
Prevention is, then, vital to any health care system. But haven’t studies repeatedly shown that preventive care is not cost-effective? Sorting this out requires that we step back and assess not only what “prevention” means, but also what we value in health care.
Preventive care can usefully be separated into three categories, as Ron Goetzel (an Emory University colleague of Thorpe’s) has described.
- Primary prevention: Health promotion measures focus on lifestyle and simple interventions such as vaccinations to keep people from developing sickness; often cost-saving.
- Secondary prevention: Targeting people with preconditions for illness, including genetic or lifestyle markers, with screening technology, maintenance drugs, in order to forestall or prevent the manifestation of the condition; rarely cost-saving, in part because it is often applied to low-risk populations. Worth it? That depends on the design of the intervention and one’s metric for assessing health care value.
- Tertiary prevention: In this context, coordinated care management for those with chronic illness. Properly implemented, chronic car management could “flatten the curve,” but is unlikely to be “cost-saving.”
So, whether “prevention” can save money (a claim Thorpe’s paper doesn’t make) is a complicated question. In addition, it is often a poorly framed one. Explicitly or implicitly, cost-based objections to prevention often suggest that preventing one illness simply means that the person will die of something else, or less simplistically, that keeping people alive longer is cost-increasing, not cost saving. Steven Wolf has elegantly responded to both objections:
[S]keptics of prevention argue that everyone dies of something; preventing demise serves only to allow a different disease to generate illness and spending. However, the aim of health promotion and disease prevention is not to prevent the inevitable but to “compress” morbidity, maximizing health until death.
Another common criticism is that prevention rarely saves money; it costs society if people live longer. The same applies to disease treatments. Health is a good; it is not purchased to save money. Health is a good that costs too much under the current medical care system, a problem of inefficiency that calls for wiser resource use, such as spending less per health unit gained (lower cost-effectiveness ratio). Disease prevention offers a way to improve health with low cost-effectiveness ratios and to also modulate disease rates. To reject health promotion and disease prevention because they do not save money (i.e., cost-effectiveness ratios are not negative) misses the point. (citations omitted)
Advocates who would shift our systemic emphasis to prevention and management of chronic illness, then, are not naïve about cost implications. To the contrary, they address the issue head-on, with a three-step argument:
- The purpose of our system is or should be the maintenance of or restoration to high levels of functioning consistent with a fulfilling life.
- Our needs have largely shifted from acute to chronic interventions, and our system should shift to meet those needs.
- In preventing or managing chronic illness, as with all interventions, we should carefully examine the capacity of methods to meet our needs, and to demand value for those being served.
Applying this sort of argument to primary care, Goetzel elsewhere advocates skepticism of attempts by medicine to turn prevention into a high-tech enterprise:
We have medicalized prevention and health promotion in this country so that most people believe that only doctors in clinical settings can deliver these services. Although effective in many cases, this approach is the most expensive method of delivering prevention. If we expand our arsenal of potential interventions to include environmental, ecological, and policy changes, in addition to individually focused counseling and coaching programs, we can change the cost-effectiveness equation.
Thorpe’s article has garnered much-deserved attention, although it is tempting to think of his data in only cost-benefit terms. That is not true to Thorpe’s conclusion, which is consistent with efforts to redirect attention from the business enterprise of health care to the health needs of Americans:
The U.S. health system remains predicated on providing acute, episodic care that is inadequate to address the altered patterns of disease now facing the American public. Our results highlight the need for prevention and care outside doctors’ offices and hospitals designed to address the changing needs of patients at risk for or living with chronic disease and, often, multiple comorbidities. As [reformers] continue their efforts to reshape the U.S. health system, they must address these changed health needs through evidence-based preventive care in the community, care coordination, and support for patient self-management.